Ford adds Waze to its Sync 3 AppLink for iOS users

While some carmakers and others worry about Google’s domination in mapping and how that will play out in the auto industry, we are continuing to see announcements that point, if not to Google’s influence growing, its place in the market and how some may be testing the waters for more.

Today, Ford announced that it is integrating the Waze traffic and navigation app into its Sync 3 AppLink platform, making the app usable and navigable with touch and voice commands (“Talk to Waze”) through the in-car display system for the first time globally to all iPhone. Availability will start in April.

AppLink services are notable in that they help create a more seamless experience for smartphone users, to essentially access their apps on their car dashboards in the same way that they would on their phones. The bonus is that you get a larger screen and the use of your car’s sound system — making for a more natural and easier experience. In addition to the voice commands, users will get extra features such as additional navigation support with estimated carpool lane arrival times.

“We know that people enjoy a range of navigation apps to help them reach their destination safely and more efficiently and have worked closely with partners to make this happen,” said Don Butler, executive director, Connected Vehicle and Services, in a statement. “With the SYNC 3 AppLink platform, drivers can access their favourite apps safely and seamlessly while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.”

The move is a long time in coming. The effort was actually first announced a year ago, at Mobile World Congress, by way of SmartDeviceLink, the consortium started by Ford and Toyota (and including other carmakers) to build more seamless bridges between smartphone apps and in-car displays. Ford has had availability for Waze for Android, meanwhile, since last year. Then, Ford hinted in January of this year that the integration was finally coming.

There are several other apps getting announced in the AppLink update today. Namely, the audio-on-demand podcast app Acast; the BPme gas stations finder and payment app; Radioplayer; and Cisco’s WebEx meetings app are all also coming to the platform. But given that there are over 100 million users of Waze, making it the world’s biggest navigation app based on crowdsourced information, it’s the more significant of the group.

The move is an important step for both Ford and Google for other reasons, too.

For Ford, it will help make its Sync 3 service more attractive to would be car buyers and existing owners (Ford says its 2018 model year vehicles running SYNC 3 version 3.0 or greater will be able to run Waze on its touch screen at launch. Other SYNC 3-enabled Ford vehicles can receive an over-the-air update or an update via USB to enable Waze functionality.) Ford tells me that there are currently 2 million AppLink users worldwide, which is a relatively small number considering that annually there are over 6 million Ford vehicles sold each year, and that AppLink has been around for years.

There are already a number of other navigation services available for Sync 3 and AppLink, with the selection varying by region. (In the UK, for example, options include Glympse, Sygic and Cityseeker.) But there is nothing currently on the market with the brand pull and use of Waze. Given that navigation is one of the more popular services on AppLink, having Waze availability is an important option.

For Google, the deal will mean more Waze usage, which in turn will help the app perform better. And it gives the company some more headway into the market at a time when reports are surfacing of tensions between it and automakers. Notably, a Ford spokesperson tells us that Ford is the first OEM to integrate Waze, and Ford is the first to integrate Waze for iOS for in-vehicle use. 

“Waze works as a personal heads-up from 100 million of your friends on the road – and now that will include the many Ford drivers who will be able to safely access our app while on the move through the car display,” said Jens Baron, product lead, In-Car Applications, Waze, in a statement. “Waze is more than just red lines on the map. It reflects a huge community of drivers on the go, outsmarting traffic together all around the world.”

The Waze/AppLink deal seems a far cry from the big partnership that Google and Ford tried to strike to develop autonomous cars, back in 2015 and early 2016.

That deal, apparently, never really took off in part because of differences over what form the partnership should take, a slow “frenemy” approach of sniffing each other out or something much bigger from the start. Sources have told us, and other reports also allege, that this helped contribute to Mark Fields stepping down as CEO of Ford.

In that context, it’s interesting to consider that this Waze integration is finally rolling out. It’s but a step for Waze iPhone app users, but one that could help lay the groundwork for or signal more trust and collaboration between the two down the road.

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